Keeping your home when in prison

You don't automatically lose your home if you are sent to prison. There may be action you can take to keep your home.

Pay your rent when in prison

It is important to do everything that you can to keep your home or to find alternative accommodation on your release. If you don't, you could be homeless when you are released from prison.

Make sure that your rent is paid while you're in prison. For example, you can:

  • claim housing benefit to cover the period you are on remand or in prison
  • check if your partner or former partner can claim housing benefit
  • find a relative or friend who can pay the rent and look after your home while you're away

It is important to act quickly. It is easier to get housing benefit paid if a claim is made as soon as possible, rather than claiming late and trying to get backdated payments.

Read more about help and advice available for prisoners and ex-offenders.

Keep paying rent arrears when in prison

You may find it difficult to pay all your rent when you are in prison. This can happen if the money you get from benefits or rent paid on your behalf by your caretaker/housekeeper is less than you should be paying to your landlord. If you don't pay all your rent, you risk getting into rent arrears and possibly being evicted.

To prevent arrears building up, try to make some payments towards any rent shortfall from your prison wages, other sources of income or saving. If you are already in arrears, negotiate with your landlord about how and when you can pay towards clearing the arrears. Your offer might include payments from your prison wages or an offer to pay the rest of the arrears from wages and benefits when you are released.

Keep in touch and negotiate with your landlord. This may help delay or prevent court action to evict you. Give your landlord your contact details in prison. This means you can be kept informed. If letters or court papers are sent to your home address, you may not receive them in time.

Depending on your tenancy type, your landlord might decide to evict you. The court can take your payment record and offers of payment into account when deciding if you should be evicted. The court can also decide to allow you to keep your home on condition that you pay the arrears off.

Keeping a private rented home

It is easy for your landlord to evict you if you are a private rented tenant with an assured shorthold tenancy. If your landlord takes you to court, you may lose your home and have to pay court costs. If you are evicted by bailiffs, you could also have to pay their costs, the costs of changing the locks and the costs of removing your belongings.

Try to do everything you can to try to keep your tenancy. If you're homeless when you're released and you apply for help from the council, you might not be eligible for help. The council could decide that you made yourself intentionally homeless if you give up a tenancy in circumstances when it would be reasonable for you to keep it.

If you do decide to give up a tenancy, because you are likely to be in prison for some time or you can't find a way to pay the rent, you must end your tenancy properly. If you don't, you could still be liable for the rent. 

Most tenancies do not allow subletting of the whole of your home. Get legal advice on the terms of your tenancy agreement from a housing expert before considering this option, otherwise you may risk losing your home.

Keeping your council or housing association home

It is important that you do everything you can to try to keep a council or housing association tenancy.

You may be able to:

You may have to consider giving up your tenancy if you can't pay your rent or can't find someone to look after your home.

Councils and housing associations have a shortage of accommodation and may be willing to agree to re-house you when you are released if you give up your tenancy voluntarily, especially if you are able to move to a smaller property. You must get this agreement in writing.

If you give up a tenancy in circumstances when it would be reasonable for you to keep it, you may risk later being treated as intentionally homeless and entitled only to limited help from your council.

Get advice if your landlord is taking action to evict you from your home. Use Shelter's directory to find an adviser in the surrounding area.

Find a caretaker for your council or housing association home

If you are a council or housing association tenant, ask a friend or relative if they can act as a caretaker while you're in prison. This means they would live in and look after your home, pay your rent and bills and send your mail to you.

It is important to make sure that a caretaking or housekeeping arrangement does not create a tenancy. This can happen if the person living in your home is paying you rent or paying the rent direct to the landlord. Be very sure that your caretaker is someone you can trust. You could lose rights to your home and risk eviction if you sublet or rent out the whole of your council or housing association property.

Get advice if you want someone to help look after your home. Use Shelter's directory to find an adviser.

Keep paying your mortgage when in prison

Try to make sure your mortgage is being paid while you're in prison, for example:

Make a claim for SMI as soon as possible. This is easier than claiming late and trying to get backdated payments.

You may also be able to claim income-related benefits. Find out more from Gov.uk about benefits you may be eligible for.

Get advice if you are unable to pay your mortgage while you're in prison. There may be ways to deal your mortgage arrears and you could try to negotiate with your lender.

Returning to a hostel or supported accommodation

Hostels have a shortage of accommodation but may be willing to agree to re-house you when you are released if you give up your accommodation voluntarily. It's worth asking, particularly if you have been living in a longer-stay hostel or supported accommodation. Make sure you get any agreement in writing.

You can be easily evicted from supported housing or a hostel. You might not be given written notice and might only be given a few days' warning that you must leave.

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